Recent Commonplace Entries


“I well remember the scene when, staring at Molotov across the table from him, Trotsky made a cutting philippic against ‘the Party bureaucrats without souls, whose stone bottoms crush all manifestations of free initiative and free creativity of the labouring masses.’ Molotov, whose name Trotsky hadn’t mentioned, should have kept quiet and acted as if the matter had nothing to do with him, or better, nodded to indicate a sense of approval. Instead, he declared while adjusting his pince-nez and stuttering: ‘We can’t all be geniuses, Comrade Trotsky.’” (from Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin by Boris Bazhanov, p 53)

“Forcing himself down to Stalin’s level. Kamenev said, ‘Of the question of capturing the majority of the Party.’ ‘Do you know what I think about this?’ Stalin replied, ‘I believe that who and how people in the Party vote, is unimportant. What is extremely important is who counts the votes, and how they are recorded.’” (from Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin by Boris Bazhanov, p 57)

“Eighteen months later, when Stalin removed Zinoviev and Kamenev from power, Zinoviev asked bitterly, remembering this plenum and the way he and Kamenev had saved Stalin, ‘Does Comrade Stalin know what gratitude is?” Pulling his pipe out of his mouth, Stalin replied, ‘Certainly I know; it is a malady that afflicts dogs.’” (from Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin by Boris Bazhanov, p 76)

“The People’s Commissar for Finances, Sokolnikov, who was undertaking monetary reform, submitted to the Politburo the nomination of Professor Yurovsky as member of the Narkomfin board and head of the department of foreign exchange. Yurovsky was not a communist, and he was unknown to the Politburo. One of the members asked, ‘I hope he’s not a Marxist?’ Sokolnikov hastened to reply, ‘No, oh, no. In the Foreign Exchange department one must know how to work, not chatter.’ The Politburo approved the nomination at once.” (from Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin by Boris Bazhanov, p 84)

“Britain has never had a Court Opera in the continental sense, and that’s a good thing, sparing us the epic pomposity that disfigures so many European artistic institutions, and which was imported wholesale from the United States (expect a British orchestra to address you as ‘Maestro’ and you’ll be laughed off stage).” (Richard Bratby in the Spectator, September 24)

Eh? “Henry Kissinger concludes that our current (presumably western) world is ‘unmoored’, lacking a strategic and moral vision.” (Richard Overy, in review of Henry Kissinger’s Leadership in TLS, September 30)

“I confess even to this day that I still don’t understand quantum mechanics, and I’m not even sure I really know how to use it all that well. And a lot of this has to do with the fact that I still don’t understand it.” (Nobelist John F. Clauser, quoted in NYT, October 5)

“I tend to feel if you are going to live in a high-risk area, you’ve got to accept the risk. I’m not going to ask government to come and bail me out. And I think a lot of people feel that way.” (former CIA-director and founding mayor of Sanibel Island Porter J. Goss, quoted in NYT, October 5)

“You saw very substantial market dislocation. It’s a recognized role of central banks to respond to that.” (Lawrence H. Summers, a former U.S. Treasury Secretary now at Harvard, quoted in NYT, October 5)

“Our budgets have been heavily fiscally responsible, and they build a very compelling architecture toward critical investments and fiscal responsibility. So it would be a mistake to overtorque in reaction to current events.” (Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, quoted in NYT, October 5)

“Mr. Urban’s later turn as a media entrepreneur made him one of Poland’s wealthiest business figures. Though he never loosened his commitment to communism, he relished in the luxuries that capitalist success afforded, like his-and-hers Jaguars, a mansion with an indoor pool and a squad of bodyguards.” (from NYT obituary of Jerzy Urban, October 7)

Late-Stage Capitalism   “And as the juggernaut of western capitalism grinds to its halt in a mire of war, displacement, pandemic and climate change, and endurance becomes the lot of ever-widening swathes of population, we may have to relearn it.” (Colin Thubron, in review of Levison Wood’s Endurance, in TLS. October 7)

“It is not an inevitable consequence of late-stage capitalism that the lion’s share of rewards is channelled to the top – rather, it is the outcome of decisions made over the years by policymakers and top bosses.” (Deborah Hargreaves in Prospect, November)

“To be a Jew was to stand at odds with the world; but to be an assimilated Jew was to stand at odds with oneself.” (Keiron Pim, in Endless Flight: The Life of Joseph Roth, quoted by Rachel Seiffert in Prospect, November)

“[Sir Michael] Howard was an elegant example of the conservatism of military historian: he didn’t accept that the malfeasance of elites played much of a role in starting wars. For him, they were an inescapable product of the division of the world into states.” (Tom Stevenson, in review of Lawrence Freedman’s Command, in LRB, October 6)

“The British defence intelligentsia is a monolith. There is no prospect of significant disagreement between, say, IISS and RUSI on any significant question of foreign policy. Dissident work on military history and contemporary security is rare. The policy of the day always happens to coincide with the personal opinions of the grand choeur.” (Tom Stevenson, in review of Lawrence Freedman’s Command, in LRB, October 6)

Problems in the Arts  “Porkalob, who is Filipino American, told Vulture that during the rehearsal process the directors had sought ‘consent from the Black folks in the play’ to carry out its vision for the staging, which includes an evocation of a slave auction — but not from the rest of the cast, including the non-Black actors of color. This decision, she said, using an acronym for people of color, ‘unconsciously held up a false narrative by assimilating non-Black POC folks into whiteness.’” (on the Broadway revival of 1776, from the NYT, October 20)

“The only reason Oxford has not yet been abolished is because no one has yet understood it. If they can understand it, they can dismantle it.” (Roger Scruton, according to Jonathan Price, as reported by Dan Hitchens in the Spectator, October 1)

“In 2002, without comment abroad or at home, the Russian post office issued a set of stamps, ‘The 80th Anniversary of Soviet Counterintelligence’: the stamps show Artur Artuzov né Frautschi, one of the most dreaded OGPU leaders in the early 1920s; Sergei Puzitsky, who organized the killing of half a million Cossacks in 1931; Vladmir Styrne, who slaughtered thousands of Uzbeks in the 1920s; Vsevolod Balitsky, who purged the Ukraine and enslaved the Soviet peasantry. Imagine the uproar if Germany issued stamps commemorating Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, and Adolf Eichmann. Nobody in Germany smokes ‘Auschwitz’ cigarettes but Belomorkanal cigarettes, commemorating a camp where 100,000 were exterminated, are still sold in Russia.” (from Donald Rayfield’s Stalin and His Hangmen, p xxii)

“As the late British historian Christopher Hill said seventy years late of the Ukraine in 1933: ‘I saw no famine’.” (from Donald Rayfield’s Stalin and His Hangmen, p 190)

“The streets of Moscow and Leningrad were still dangerous at night, but now that banditry was punished as severely as telling anti-Soviet jokes, some of the public regained confidence.” (from Donald Rayfield’s Stalin and His Hangmen, p 309)

“Unlike Ezhov, Beria knew when to hold back, when to step back. Beria was not just a vindictive sadist, he was an intelligent pragmatist, capable of mastering a complex brief, and one of the best personnel managers in the history of the USSR. With very slight adaptations, he could have made himself a leading politician in any country of the world.” (from Donald Rayfield’s Stalin and His Hangmen, p 343)

“In the event, Beria’s four years’ managing atomic weaponry were impressive. He seemed to get as much enjoyment from engineering projects as from arresting and killing enemies of the state.” (from Donald Rayfield’s Stalin and His Hangmen, p 429)

“As for Beria’s legendary sexual proclivities, he was certainly guilty of many rapes – usually by blackmail rather than force – and of violating young girls. On the other hand, some of his mistresses were fond, or at least respectful, of him. By the standards of some Soviet leaders, who used the Bolshoi Ballet as a brothel, or even compared to J. F. Kennedy or David Lloyd George, Beria was not beyond the pale, even if at intervals during meetings he ordered women to eb delivered to his house, as modern politicians order pizzas.” (from Donald Rayfield’s Stalin and His Hangmen, p 459)

“For the world to achieve the net-zero goal for carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency, we will have to mine, by 2040, six times the current amounts of critical minerals — nickel, cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, graphite, chromium, rare earths and other minerals and elements — needed for electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels. And we will almost certainly have to do it from sources other than Russia, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other places that pose unacceptable strategic, environmental or humanitarian risks.” (Bret Stephens, in NYT, October 30)

2 Responses to Recent Commonplace Entries

  1. Michael

    Not sure where to find on the map “his . . . redbrick house at Purely with its back-garden tennis-court”. Just south of Corydon, perhaps? And a few other typos this month, which are I believe abhorred by you.

    • coldspur

      Thank you, Michael. That damned autocorrect feature, I am sure. I have rebuked my Chief Editor, Thelma. But I am responsible: the buck stops here.

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